Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

OUTSIDE CHINA                              329

of the life of the watery kingdom and the strange lights shooting forth
from the crystal palace. When he had finished the poem, the different
spirits stood round to look at it. Captain Bass and Sergeant Lobster
rand the others all expressed their deep admiration. Commissioner
^Turtle was also there. He stepped forth and pointed out to the
'Dragon King that in this poem Su Tungpo had used one word which
was the personal name of the King and was therefore taboo. When
the Dragon King heard this, he became very angry with Su Tungpo.
"When I retired, I sighed and said to myself: It's my bad luck to run
into Commissioner Turtle.'"

Su Tungpo wrote three or four allegories, but imaginative writing
by Chinese scholars did not really develop until the thirteenth century,
and, like the allegories written by other writers in Tang and Sung
times, Su's stories were hardly more than thinly covered inventions for
an all too obvious moral.

For the next two and a half years after he had built his little hut, Su
led a carefree but bare existence. He had two wonderful friends, one
Ho Tehshun, a Taoist at Canton who forwarded all mail for him, and
the other a humble scholar who went about and sent him foodstuffs,
medicines, rice, pickles, and books that he needed. The summer months
in the tropical island were very trying on account of the dampness,
and Su would sit in the palm grove counting each day until autumn
" was come. The rains fell in autumn and the big ships from Canton
and Fukien stopped coining on account of the-stormy weather. The
food supplies ran short and even rice was not obtainable in this island.
Su Tungpo was really stranded. He wrote to a friend in the winter of
1098 to say that he and his son "sat facing each other in the bare hut
like two hermits". All that winter, supplies did not come, and they
were in danger of starvation. He resorted to his old recipe for vegetable
soup and began to cook cockle-burrs for his food.

One does not know how serious he was when he wrote in riis journal
an entry about stopping hunger by eating the rays of the morning
sun. It is well known that Taoists usually starved themselves to death
when they decided to quit this world, and there was a period when
they stopped eating grain altogether. In this note about "dispensing
with grain" Su told the story of a man at Loyang who once fell into
a pit. There were frogs and snakes in the pit, and the man observed
that at dawn the animals turned their heads towards the morning sun
that came through the crevice, and made a motion of gulping down
the rays. Hungry and curious, he imitated the animals, and found that
his hunger was gone. Later the man was rescued and was said to have
not known hunger thereafter. "It's such a simple thing. Why does
nobody know about it, or practise it? The reason must be that it takes
a man with great self-discipline to put it into practice. Rice is expen-